Reasons for leaving town focus on Greenwich’s special ed-failings

Bill-Gaston-Greenwich-VoicesStepping down from his perch as the New York Times’ Gotham columnist, Michael Powell once remarked that “writing a column is terrifically destructive of certainty.” I am certain I know how he feels.

As my family wanders off from Greenwich to the wilds of Westchester (and before my tear ducts start to moisten), let me offer a huge thank-you to Post editor Ken Borsuk for affording me this rare privilege to write this column for the better part of a year. It’s certainly been a blast, one I will dearly miss.

The decision to leave Greenwich after seven years in a beautiful house across from Bruce Park was not made lightly. Indeed, many of our friends wonder why anyone in their right mind would trade the low-tax culture of Greenwich for the higher taxes and smaller footprint of a townhouse in Bronxville, N.Y.

After all, one of our major motivations in moving to Greenwich from Bronxville in 2007 was to stretch out a bit from a cramped co-op. And (yes) the lower taxes were welcome too.

But, as with any momentous decision of this sort, there is no single factor in our decision to move back. One major reason will be getting closer to my job. The daily grind into lower Manhattan via Metro-North and city subways has been physically and emotionally draining and the move to Bronxville will considerably reduce my commuting time. I used to get a chuckle reading fellow Post columnist Jim Cameron’s impassioned cri de coeurs on the manifold indignities faced by Metro-North commuters, until one day I realized he was talking about me.

The primary reason for our family’s move (back) to Bronxville can be summed up in one word: Ava.

Ava is our 14-year-old daughter, our precious princess, as we never tire of calling her. Ava spent seven weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital after she was born. An intellectually curious girl with designs on becoming a pediatrician, she has always been a fighter. Ava spent her first two years of schooling in Bronxville before we left for Greenwich, but she always kept a soft spot in her heart for the village life she left behind.

Ava enjoyed five wonderful years at the Julian Curtiss Elementary School where she says she felt “looked after” and “taken care of.” However, once she transitioned to Central Middle School (CMS), everything changed. The services she had received at JC were either grudgingly provided at CMS or not provided at all. The attitude from senior staff at the school was all about cultivating student “self-sufficiency” and independence.

Pleas to higher authorities were met with indifference. Indeed, the highest ranking Greenwich schools official charged with overseeing special ed services — despite countless e-mails and calls from my wife requesting the same services our daughter received at JC — could not be bothered to weigh in at all either by phone or e-mail. We didn’t receive a single communication back.

In sharing our frustrations with parents of other special needs kids around town, we realized we weren’t alone. Too many families suffer in silence as they fight to demand services for their kids which, by law, the town should be providing but too often does not. Instead of complying with these mandates, the ritual response from the town’s special ed bureaucracy is to stonewall, resist, force parents to jump through endless procedural hoops and (if pushed to the limit) litigate.

Rather than wage this interminable fight, we chose to return to a more welcoming district for special needs students, one where Ava can walk to school and where we can enjoy village life.

Ava is naturally “thrilled” to be coming home to Bronxville. She will be entering the eighth grade at the Bronxville School reconnecting with some of her old kindergarten pals and where her little brother Grey will be starting kindergarten.

We are certain we have made the right move.

 

Bill Gaston is a former member of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee, but the opinions expressed here are his own.

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